eSN Special Report: Small-group collaboration

Another class project calls for four students to work together to design a robot and give a presentation selling the robot to their classmates. That kind of activity would be easier with the GP1, she said, because all the content can be loaded in advance on a thumb drive, and “when you only have 45 minutes for a class, you don’t want to waste time setting up equipment.”

She also expects the projector will be useful for teacher collaboration, noting that “collaboration is what teaching is all about.”

In her school, for example, an art teacher and math teacher worked together to present lessons on tessellation. “It’s really important for students to see everything is connected,” she said. In another recent collaborative effort, Sheehan reinforced the history curriculum by having her students draw pictures, write screenplays, or perform skits to illustrate the historic events in the lyrics of the Billy Joel song, “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

Collaboration and 21st-century skills

Collaborative projects not only help teach content, but also can help students develop 21st-century skills such as communication, time management, teamwork, and facilitation, Silverman said. With this approach, “the teacher is seen less like an evaluator and more as a coach, facilitator, and mentor. Teachers today need to know how to mix and match those different roles to maximize learning.”

Communication and collaboration are among the key skills necessary for succeeding in school and life, as identified by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, along with such skills as critical thinking, creativity, problem solving, flexibility, and media literacy.

Additional Resources

BenQ’s GP1 projector is portable, lightweight, and convenient for small-group collaboration
Ultraportable projectors, such as BenQ’s GP1, are ideally suited to small-group collaboration, as well as structured presentations delivered by a teacher, users say.

The partnership defines collaboration as the ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams, the willingness to compromise to accomplish a common goal, and the ability to share responsibility for collaborative work and to value the individual contributions made by each team member.

A white paper published by the Partnership cites research by David Johnson and Roger Johnson that found “students who work together cooperatively show dramatic increases in academic achievement, self-esteem, and positive social skills.”

The Teaching Effectiveness Program at the University of Oregon’s Teaching and Learning Center summarized several additional benefits of collaborative learning from various studies:

  • Effective groups assume ownership of a process and its results when individuals are encouraged to work together toward a common goal.
  • Students’ critical thinking skills improve, along with their retention of information and interest in the subject matter.
  • Collaborative learning allows the assignment of more challenging tasks without making the workload unreasonable.
  • It provides weaker students with extensive one-on-one tutoring, while stronger students gain the deeper understanding that comes only from teaching others.
  • Students are less likely to consider teachers the sole sources of knowledge and understanding.

Global collaboration

It’s essential “to know how to collaborate across a digital learning environment,” as well as face to face, said Canuel of Jefferson County, who noted that one of the most important things businesses want to know about job applicants is “how effectively you work in a collaborative environment.”

He recalled how the dean of a university engineering department told a recent gathering of students and parents that, “To be an effective engineer, you have to work collaboratively with engineers in different countries, different time zones, and probably different cultures. That was quite a shock to some of our parents who thought it was enough to be a good student.”

In Forsyth County, Ga., a growing number of schools are using desktop videoconferencing to collaborate globally, reports Jill Hobson, director of instructional technology. In one current-events class, for example, students exchange information about the political situation, schools, and other issues with students in Greece, Russia, and China.

Elementary students are learning about insects through a collaborative project with scientists at the University of Chicago, she said. The students send samples of insects to the university, which they can then view on the university’s electronic microscope. The images are accessible via computer and projected so the whole class can see them.

At one point, a group of third-graders asked about a particular part on a ladybug, and the scientists admitted they didn’t know what it was and promised to research it for the students. That illustrated how science really works, Hobson said, adding: “It was a phenomenal experience for those kids.”

Collaboration is “authentic learning,” Hobson said, and it is “transformational in that kids see their work is valued beyond the teacher. We’re so very connected now, it’s critical that kids have the ability to collaborate even when they’re not in the same physical space.”

Ellie Ashford is a freelance writer living in northern Virginia.

Laura Ascione